There are a variety of reasons why you might not be able to sleep or struggle to stay asleep—reasons that could affect you at any point during the year. Because it’s not just about setting aside time for enough sleep. There are also a number of issues that could be interfering with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep long enough to complete the four stages of sleep.
That’s why this week I wanted to give you a quick rundown of 11 major reasons you may be having a hard time getting a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep contributes to a number of health issues like heart disease and stroke and shouldn’t be overlooked. If you’re waking up feeling tired, irritable, and suffering from brain fog, please be mindful of these potential triggers.
1) Your Temperature
Temperature matters. If your body is too warm at night, you’re going to have a hard time completing REM sleep. The optimum room temperature for sleeping is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (about 18 degrees Celsius), so make sure you check the thermostat before dozing off.
But another thing to keep in mind is your body temperature. Our body operates a process called thermoregulation on a 24-hour circadian cycle that allows it to adjust our core temperature. A lower body temperature at night helps you fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer.
2) Everyday Concerns
Whether it’s a big report that's due at work, a recent fight with your significant other, or the frustration of having to pay a few hundred bucks to fix an unexpected car problem, the hurdles we run into in every day can significantly affect our sleep.
I’m not a big drinker. Still, I certainly understand the appeal of a nice glass of wine to unwind after work or a couple of beers while sitting back and watching the game at night.
At the same time, millions of people turn to alcohol at night as their go-to sleep aid, with around 20% of Americans relying on it to help them fall asleep.
But drinking, especially the closer you get to sleep, will actually do you more harm than good. I’ve talked about alcohol’s negative effect on sleep at length in the past. While it may help you fall asleep quickly, during the second half of the night, your sleep becomes more disrupted.
Perhaps the most obvious one on the list. Caffeine, and coffee in particular, is a stimulant. This opens you up to a number of side effects that can hamper your sleep, including:
- Stomach cramps
- Frequent urination
- An elevated heart rate
5) Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of interrupted sleep. It affects about 12% of Americans, but about 80% of those suffering from sleep apnea go undiagnosed.
Common sleep apnea symptoms include:
- Snoring—which can also be worsened by alcohol use
- Excessive daytime fatigue
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory problems
- Mood swings
If you’re battling some of those symptoms throughout the night, you should look into getting tested for sleep apnea in the near future.
6) Your Diet
A midnight snack is one of life’s great joys, but don’t go overboard. Higher fat and calorie consumption at night has been shown to make it harder for men and women to reach REM sleep. Avoid big meals right before going to sleep.
Mental health is closely linked to sleep. Anxiety or depression can lead to interruptions in your sleep pattern—making it increasingly difficult to reach REM sleep. Talk to your doctor if you believe you’re suffering from either of these health issues. A game plan to treat your anxiety or depression can help you get better sleep.
Exercising is great. I would never tell my patients to shy away from a good workout. But depending on your body clock, it might not be the best idea for you to exercise an hour before calling it a night.
The best times to be physically active depend on your chronotype, so you’ll want to have that nailed down before figuring out your gym plan.
9) Your Phone
Harvard researchers have found that blue light—something that comes from our mobile screens—throws the body off kilter. Instead of helping your mind and body wind down, your phone stimulates your brain and makes it tougher to get a good night’s sleep.
Of course, it can be fun to lay in bed and scroll through Instagram or read a quick article before calling it a night. But those minutes on your phone may be costing you sleep later in the night. Try reading a book and limiting your phone time in the hour before you fall asleep. You can also wear blue-light-blocking glasses at least 90 minutes before bedtime.
A 20-minute nap in the afternoon can help us tackle the rest of our day with an extra burst of energy. I know it can be hard to wake up from a little siesta once you’re comfortable, but you don’t want to nap for too long, either. Taking too much of a break during the day can throw your body off and make it that much harder for you to fall asleep at night.
If you’re simply struggling to fall asleep at night, you may be dealing with insomnia. Insomnia can be amplified by several of the things we’ve just talked about, including alcohol use, excessive napping, and a poor sleep environment. If insomnia is persistent, you should visit a sleep specialist to determine the cause.
I hope that you’ll be able to look back on these 11 common reasons we have difficulty sleeping and find a solution that works for you.
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